album review ~ meb jon sol ~ southpaw niños

The result of years of graft, sweat and dogged like tenacity, 'Southpaw Niños' is a debut album long overdue from one of this country's great entertainers. Beginning his musical career in the beloved Colenso Parade, Mickey McCullagh has long since established himself as a prominent face in the Belfast music scene, whether it's supporting local artists or promoting gigs himself. Divine intervention from the BBC over in London halted Colenso's dreams of a debut album (though that seems a story for another time...), kick starting the journey to what would become Meb Jon Sol.

Multiple gigs, a revolving door of new bandmates and one fateful trip to Madrid later, finally the newly christened Meb would get there by himself. But how does the finished product live up to this legacy? Thankfully, bloody well. Here Taylor Johnson gives his opinion...

Opening with the pulsating single 'Captain Of This Ship', Meb Jon Sol's debut couldn't really have hoped for a more appropriate opener. A modern day sea-shanty of sing-along proportions, 'Captain...' manages to sum up the feel good nature of McCullagh's musical heritage within a three and a half minute burst of banjo riffs and tub-thumping vibrancy. All wrapped within a raw and emotive vocal, it is, in many ways, a timeless homage to everything Belfast represents. You'll be singing 'All this is yours my friend' after one listen or your money back.

Then comes 'Not Young Anymore', a swinging anthem of Pogues like fervour. Everything from the title's beautifully harmonized refrain, to the guiding electric guitar solo (which edges the song along without overstaying it's welcome) highlights a songwriting maturity that the singer perhaps doesn't get credited enough for. As it leads into the folk-era Springsteen inspired 'Leave All Your Troubles With Me'. Another song brimming with character, here we see Meb Jon Sol at his most reflective, as he asks a loved one to discard their worries to 'the cold white sea' and follow him instead, against a gentle Irish violin backing.

In 'Angie, Where Did Your Love Go?' we see the introduction of a more atmospheric sound, as some sterling guitar work paves a great intro. Again we see Meb attempt to comfort a lover he's leaving for the greater good. 'You'll see me in a million different ways' proves a perfect sentiment through a track teeming with a regretful acquiesce.

The next track proves a winding hark back to McCullagh's Colenso days, as 'I Am From Nowhere's three piece vocal harmonies and skiffle beat chorus radiates his old band's feel good vibes. The heartrending 'I Am Yours' continues the albums love-lorn sentiments, as he croons, 'I am a widow who does not cry, a dead man that did not die, a bird that does not fly, but I am yours' in real poetic fashion.

Penultimate track 'Everyone Has A Secret Song' is perhaps this albums real highlight. Though never an obvious choice for a single, it remains a hidden gem of real emotional potency. Melodically lifting, but with maudlin overtones, it may also contain  McCullagh's best lyricism to date.

"Everyone has to move on, everyone loves someone who's gone, everyone has a secret song, but yours and mine were one"

Honest and charming, everything from it's 'Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want'-esque mandolin solo, (as if you're floating down a Venetian gondola) to its closing soft acoustic guitar is utterly intoxicating.

Finally we reach the album's eponymous climax. Complex acoustic guitar work builds to a classic Meb Jon Sol fiesta of a chorus. Riveting, yet strangely melancholy, Southpaw Niños feels as much a closing to a chapter as the opening of a new one. It marks the successful triumph of years of dedication and in truth, there could be no other song as appropriate to mark the albums end.

In all, Southpaw Niños carries much of the same DNA as Bruce Springsteen's all too often overlooked Seeger Sessions ('We Shall Overcome'), an album of subtle genius and nostalgic warmth. It has the potential to achieve classic status, provided McCullagh doesn't decide to take on a new challenge too soon!

Taylor Johnson
For Fans Of: The Pogues, Billy Bragg


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